A Beginner’s Guide to a Grown Man’s Fantasy: The UFC in 2014 – Part V

By: Justin Nearon

Men’s Welterweight – 156 to 170 lbs

The UFC’s 170 pound division might be its most compelling one in 2014.

George St-Pierre’s retirement, however temporary, has created a multitude of possibilities within this weight class.  For the last half decade only one man to worn the belt, but this year alone could see it change hands two or three times.

Georges St-Pierre (background) and Johny Hendricks (foreground)  – (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

There are so many contenders, the best way to approach this section might be to give you a brief two sentence synopsis of each one.

Johny Hendricks:  He should be wearing the belt right now, but a bad judges decision robbed him of a win against GSP.  “Big Rig” is the not only the best wrestler in the division, but possesses the most feared right hand in the UFC.

Robbie Lawler:  Back in 2002 Lawler was the heir apparent to the welterweight title, but the spotlight got the best of him and by 2004 he was out of the UFC.  In 2012 he returned and after three straight wins against ranked opponents this devastating kick boxer may wear the belt yet.

Rory MacDonald: The best technical fighter in the division, but a lack of aggressiveness has hindered his most recent performances.  Still only 24, Macdonald has plenty of time to regain the form that once had him considered the heir apparent to GSP’s crown.

Rory MacDonald (left) and Robbie Lawler (right)  – smashpipe.com

Matt Brown: The yin to Rory’s Yang, what Brown lacks in technical ability he makes up for in fire and aggression.  A fierce striker with a high tolerance for pain, “The Immortal” is the hottest man in welterweight right now, having won 6 fights in a row.

Carlos Condit: Combines what MacDonald and Brown do best, in that he’s very technical without losing his aggression. Arguably the best all around fighter at 170lbs, Carlos is never more than two fights away from a title shot.

Tyron Woodley: “Tabasco” only came over from Strikeforce a year ago, but a devastating knockout of Josh Koscheck at “UFC 167” catapulted him into title contention.  Not only is he arguably the division’s best athlete, but at ‘fighting weight’ is also one of the biggest.

Tyron Woodley (standing) and Josh Koscheck (ground)  – Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Demain Maia:  He really only does one thing well, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he’s better at it than anyone else in MMA.  A former BJJ World Champion, Mia has really benefited from a drop down from middleweight, where his size advantage allows him to smother smaller opponents.

Nick Diaz: Though currently out of MMA, GSP’s retirement (whose point fighting style Diaz despised) could induce him to return to the UFC.  If he does, Diaz is such a fan favorite he might only need one big win to earn a title shot.

Erick Silva: This is my welterweight “Rising Star”.  I actually had him pegged as ‘one to watch’ a few years ago, but after getting knocked out out by Dong Hyun Kim in October he dropped off the radar.  Still one of the best athletes in the division with an incredibly entertaining fighting style, Silva still has time to make his mark on the sport.

Anderson Silva (left) and Eric Silva (right)  – Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

How do we make sense of this quagmire of contenders?  We will get some clarity when Johny Hendricks faces of with Robbie Lawler for the vacant welterweight belt at “UFC 171” in March. It’s often said that “styles make fights” and as much as Hendricks was built to beat GSP, he doesn’t match up nearly as well with Lawler.

A former middleweight, Lawler might be a little too big for Hendricks to hold down. He’s also fearless enough to wade through Johny’s big right hand and unlike St-Pierre, can hurt Hendricks with punches.  As you’ve probably assumed, I am picking Robbie to win a title he might have thought impossible just two years ago.  After that it’s anyone’s guess, but I’m willing to bet Lawler doesn’t end the year with the belt. I’d lean towards Carlos Condit, but ultimately this will be one championship merry go round that should keep on spinning for the next few years.

Carlos Condit (left) and Nick Diaz (right)  – Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Men’s Middleweight – 171 to 185 lbs

I’m going to wrap up my preview of the ‘UFC in 2014’ with the Middleweights. This division is not quite as stacked as the 170 pounders, but with a new champion  for the first time in six years, Chris Weidman, it’s no less interesting.

First let me say that I hope this isn’t the last we see of Anderson Silva.  Breaking your leg in two places is no way for anyone to go out, let alone the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all time.  His spectacular knockout of Rich Franklin back in 2006 is the reason I fell in love with the sport in the first place. I’d love to see him regain the belt, but if not, at least have the opportunity to go out on his own terms.

Chris Weidman (left) and Anderson Silva (right)  – UFC.com

As for Chris Weidman, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, he just beat the best fighter in the world… twice. He is without doubt a very deserving champion.

The bad news is, there are three more dangerously talented Brazilians ready to take that championship belt from him.

Weidman’s first title defense will come on May, 24th against Vitor Belfort.  “The Phenom” is coming off a spectacular 2013 that saw him win three fights, all by head kick knockout.  Having transformed his physique to resemble a miniature incredible hulk, Belfort will present a strength and ferocity Weidman didn’t see against Silva.  That being said Chris is a very big man himself and I expect him to dominate on the ground, thus neutralizing Belfort’s striking advantage.

Lyoto Machida presents a much different kind of challenge. Weidman will find getting this elusive Brazilian to the ground much harder to do than against Vitor or Anderson.  “The Dragon” also has an extremely patient karate style that could frustrate an aggressive fighter like Weidman.  If he doesn’t lull you to sleep with inactivity, he’ll put you to sleep with a precision karate kick after you lose your concentration for just a second.

Vitor Belfort (left) and Lyoto Machida (right)  – UFC.com

The man I ultimately see ending up with the belt is my “Rising Star” Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.  Last year I predicted that if Weidman retained his title against Anderson Silva, that Souza would be the man to eventually take it from him in 2014. I’ve longed believed “Jacare” the second best man in the division, but because he trains with Anderson, the two have sworn never to fight one another. With that obstacle removed, I believe this is the year we see the full display of Souza’s skill and talent. He might need all of them to defeat another title contender, Francis Carmont, on Saturday’s ‘UFC Fight Night 36’ card.

Ronaldo is very dangerous on his feet, yet Weidman might be reticent to take him to the ground, where Souza has one of the best submission games in the world.

What might be most compelling, is if Souza wins the title and Silva returns from injury, would the two would set aside their friendship to fight for the belt? It’s just one of several interesting possibilities in an endlessly fascinating division.

Anderson Silva (left) and Ronaldo Souza (right)  – sherdog.com

That’s about it for my ‘2014 UFC Preview’, but before I wrap it up let’s take a brief look at the most important fights already scheduled for this year.

UFC Fight Night on Feb.15th from Brazil:  Lyoto Machida (middleweight contender) vs Gergard Mousasi;  Ronaldo Souza vs Frances Carmont (both middleweight contenders);  Erick Silva (welterweight “Rising Star”) vs Takenori Sato.

UFC 170 on Feb.22nd from Las Vegas:  Ronda Rousey vs Sarah McMann for the Women’s Bantamweight Title;  Daniel Cormier vs Rashad Evans (both light heavyweight contenders);  Rory MacDonald vs Demian Maia (both welterweight contenders)

UFC Fight Night on Mar.8th from London: Alexander Gustafsson (#1 light heavyweight contender) vs Jimi Manuwa (light heavyweight “Rising Star”)

UFC 171 on Mar.15th from Dallas: Johny Hendricks vs Robbie Lawler for the Welterweight Title;  Carlos Condit vs Tyron Woodley (both welterweight contenders)

UFC 172 on Apr.26th from Baltimore:  Jon Jones vs Glover Teixeira for the Light Heavyweight Title; Joseph Benavidez (flyweight contendor) vs Tim Elliott; Luke Rockhold (middleweight contender) vs Tim Boetsch

 UFC 173 on May 24th from Las Vegas: Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort for the Middleweight Title

Vitor Belfort (left) and Luke Rockhold (right)  – LLC/Zuffa

Link to Part 1: Women’s Bantamweight and Strawweight

Link to Part 2: Men’s Flyweight and Bantamweight

Link to Part 3: Men’s Featherweight and Lightweight

Link to Part 4: Men’s Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight

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